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5 ways for teams to create an automation-first mentality

DevSecOps can provide a competitive edge for your organization. Use these five strategies to get started.
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An automation-first mentality is likely a significant transformation for any organization, typically starting with task automation, moving to complex workflow orchestration, and ultimately innovating intelligent operations and "push-button" end-user services. It represents a solid commitment for DevSecOps—acknowledging the competitive edge this type of cultural change can provide. But getting there, and finding and building the necessary support for it, are real challenges—even when there's been some initial success running automations in individual departments.

1. Win early and often

Although it can be tempting to try and automate the most important, most time-consuming manual processes that live within your domain from the outset, there's a lot of merit to seeking smaller wins early in the process. Automating the individual pieces of a more extensive process to start gives you the building blocks for more complex automations later and lets you showcase the value of automation early. 

Progress should be iterative, and you should consider each iteration you'll include and what it will feature. It should feel like you're doing developer work. By increasing scope and capabilities iteratively, you’re building to larger goals while also benefiting from automations you’ve just built and tested, meaning you can build confidently.

Having these wins to point to helps you evangelize the automation initiative with your team, your manager, and other teams.

[ Download now: 6 ways to promote organization-wide IT automation. ]

2. Embrace upskilling and third-party support

Training and certification are critical to all aspects of adopting an automation-first mentality. Not only is it key to helping your team deploy automations confidently, but it also helps build momentum for broader automation adoption across your organization. You can benefit from a "train-the-trainer" approach that empowers other teams while ensuring compliance with established automation standards and governance.

Many organizations use strategic outside consulting engagements to help accelerate the automation adoption process. That can be unnerving to IT professionals within the organization—fearing this represents permanent outsourcing or job loss. But good consulting engagements have measurable, finite goals that enable and empower these teams through a mentoring relationship—leaving them with automation in production and the capabilities to continue work on increasingly complex projects and use cases.

3. Find your champion

Large-scale change can be daunting, and initiatives like enterprise automation require someone who relishes the opportunity to overcome the natural resistance that occurs with this type of transformation. Frequently this is someone relatively new to the organization, and often they have a mandate to "go out in the wild" and tackle problems. Maybe this person is you. At any rate, they are a necessary force to get the idea started and begin spreading it across teams, even teams that may be reluctant to work closely together—like development and operations.

[ Download now: A system administrator's guide to IT automation.]

4. Establish governance and standards

An automation-first mentality assumes a readiness to automate new tasks and processes. This means establishing a source of truth, documenting as you go so that other teams can securely benefit from your work. You'll want a way to track code and changes—separating your automation code from your information and data model—securing privileged information with trusted tools and avoiding file shares to distribute the source code. By using code as your documentation, not only do you foster collaboration, but you also transform the organization to have repeatable automation practices that you can share across the enterprise.

Beyond centrally managing automation code, it is also essential to define and evolve standards to integrate and orchestrate automation across teams and projects more readily. As broad adoption and reuse increase, look to establish a governing group to address cross-team challenges. These typically include standard tooling, requirements for automated testing, and best practices for deploying or rolling back changes.

5. Create a community and collaborate

Getting to an automation-first mentality requires collaboration. This can put off many people, especially those who may greet the word with skepticism. But the root of DevSecOps is having these teams together at the table, whether it's fun or not. The process isn't magic, and it will not solve all problems, but the result is complex orchestrations—including a comprehensive standard and a process for governing the automations. These automations should focus on actual pain points within your organization, and they should provide real, measurable business value to the teams in play.

One way to make collaboration faster and more effective is to establish an automation community within your organization. This community should be the core automation team and include people from across the organization. Their mission is to share approaches, address challenges, and help other teams adopt automation successfully. They do this by helping engage these other teams, showing them the successes and possibilities, guiding them on the standard practices, and generally sharing knowledge (and playbooks) that help others solve problems and accelerate their use of automation.

[ Free Guide: How to explain DevOps in plain English ]

Where does it end?

Automation is most powerful when it's focused on business impacts. Those impacts may be internal productivity (like push-button environments) or customer-facing (like faster customer response times). As automation gains broader adoption within your organization, you're likely to find that to continue the evolution and increase value, workflows and fundamental approaches need reinventing.

For example, processes that used to have approvals that sat midstream are rebuilt to be fully automated. Rather than strictly looking at the tasks to automate, you're building a platform that lets you continually optimize workflows and processes far beyond replacing a manual task with an automated one. You're building a platform capable of performing event-driven, automated remediation, automating compliance through patching that minimizes downtime and customer service interruptions, and designing processes and workflows that innovate more secure ways to remove superfluous human intervention.

At its root, automation is a straightforward solution, but it's a very open-ended one. And change is fast. Your goals will change rapidly because automation is, by nature, a very flexible and adaptable solution to business needs. The end result is an automation-first mindset, but the workaround automations, the iterations and minimum viable product (MVP), and work optimizing should and will adjust to your capabilities and evolving business needs.

[ Download now: Enterprise automation DevOps checklist. ]

Check out these related articles on Enable Sysadmin

Topics:   Automation   Career   DevOps  
Author’s photo

Allen Eastwood

Allen is a Senior Architect for Red Hat Consulting, where he brings over 20 years of experience. He lives in Plano, TX and enjoys playing ice hockey when he’s not helping customers automate their IT systems. More about me

Author’s photo

Larry Spangler

Larry is a Principal Solution Manager on the Red Hat Services Portfolio Management team, where he leads the definition, development, and management of Automation Services products for Red Hat’s Global Services organization. More about me

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